Saturday, April 28, 2012

South Carolina plant builds jet from start to finish

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — The first 787 Dreamliner assembled in South Carolina waited Friday to roll out into the hot sunshine, “Made with pride in South Carolina” stenciled on its fuselage.

It’s a step that moves this new Boeing manufacturing site out of the shadow of Washington state.

Boeing South Carolina, which employs around 6,000 people, has until now built 787 rear fuselages and mid-fuselages, then shipped them to Everett, Wash., for final assembly.

Now it can boast that it also assembles complete airplanes, one of just three elite widebody jet assembly sites in the world: Everett, Wash.; Toulouse, France; and now North Charleston, S.C.

And unlike Everett, Boeing South Carolina does the entire sequence of plane-making.

Resin-soaked carbon fiber tape is pulled out of cold storage, wound into barrel-shaped fuselage sections and baked to hardness. All the various pieces of the airplane are joined and integrated, its systems installed and tested, until it’s ready to fly.

“This is the only site in the world that can say we go from freezer all the way to flight,” said Matt Borland, director of 787 aft-fuselage assembly.

At the end of the line sat Dreamliner No. 46, the first Boeing-designed commercial jet ever built outside Washington’s Puget Sound region.

Washington state remains the center of gravity of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. It boasts 83,000 Boeing employees, including all the commercial airplane engineers who design the jets.

Yet clearly Boeing South Carolina is now a significant, high-tech part of Boeing’s commercial jet operations, one focused entirely on making and assembling its newest jet made from carbon-fiber-reinforced composite plastic.

Jack Jones, vice president of Boeing South Carolina, marveled at the short timeline from knocking down trees in January 2010 to the rollout.

“From the time we went to dirt to the aircraft that’s going to roll out today — two-and-a-half years. That’s phenomenal,” Jones said.

Marco Cavazzoni, general manager of the final assembly center, said construction of the building, at a cost of $750 million, provided jobs for 10,000 construction workers and came in seven months ahead of schedule.

“I have what I consider the best new team and new site in the history of commercial aviation,” said Cavazzoni.

Cavazzoni said just four 787s will be delivered from here this year, all of them to Air India, as the team ramps up carefully to the three-per-month rate.

The effort has not been without controversy. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board questioned the legal standing of the site’s new final assembly line when it charged Boeing with selecting South Carolina over Washington in retaliation against the Machinists union for past strikes.

That legal question evaporated last year when the International Association of Machinists union agreed with the company to secure production of a new 737 model for Renton, Wash., and dropped its objections to the Dreamliner production line in North Charleston.

Jones said Air India’s South Carolina 787 will fly in three to four weeks and will be delivered by the end of June.


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